Anne Hathaway Doesn’t Need ‘Barbie’

Her talent and marketability prove she can do it. But that doesn’t mean she should.
By  · Published on July 26th, 2017

Her talent and marketability prove she can do it. But that doesn’t mean she should.

This week, Anne Hathaway has been tipped to star in two completely different movies. According to Deadline, she signed on to the contained sci-fi thriller O2, which is due to start production in the fall. And she is also “circling” the lead role in Sony’s Barbie feature. Amy Schumer dropped out of the latter project in March, and Hathaway has reportedly been in consideration ever since.

O2 will be a one-woman show in which Hathaway plays a woman who has to escape a cryogenic chamber with limited oxygen supply. In comparison, if negotiations for Barbie come to fruition, she will be playing the iconic title character in a feel-good, adamantly children-friendly film about body image and self-love.

These opportunities are such polar opposites, but truthfully, considering Hathaway’s varied filmography, it comes as no surprise. That said, we would much prefer seeing her in O2 than Barbie, and that has nothing to do with her abilities as an actress. Hathaway has proven herself to be fully capable of headlining movies big and small and enjoys a steadily flourishing career with very few hiccups.

Hathaway appeals to viewers of all ages. She began stealing hearts with her very first film role in The Princess Diaries. And while it received lukewarm reviews at best (a trend with many of her family-friendly offerings), the Disney comedy solidified her signature humor and sweetness. Since then, she has maintained crossover success, consistently jumping between dramas (Brokeback Mountain, Becoming Jane), rom-coms (The Devil Wears Prada, Bride Wars), animation (Rio and its sequel), adventure movies (Alice in Wonderland and its sequel), and more.

Hathaway has further proven her mettle in darker roles, earning her first Academy Award nomination for Rachel Getting Married. She later went on to win numerous awards, including the Best Supporting Actress Oscar, for her performance in Les Misérables. Plus she’s had a whirlwind of blockbuster success, having starred as Catwoman in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises.

Yet, other than her second Nolan collaboration, Interstellar, Hathaway’s filmography has remained decidedly low-key from the point of her big awards sweep. This year, she received a critical renaissance of sorts with Colossal, though it disappointed at the box office.

In spite of all this, Barbie does not seem to be the best fit for Hathaway.

I’ll be the first to say that Hathaway is lovable enough to lead such a film. If her earlier roles are anything to go by, she has the charisma and earnestness to actually breathe life into Barbie. Yes, earnestness is a good thing. The unwarranted vitriol she received during the 2013 awards circuit for being just that could be something to draw from for a film about self-image. That said, Hathaway has also played similar characters before. She was a role model for young girls (myself included) and continues to be without filling those same shoes over and over.

Probably more than anyone else, children ought to see themselves reflected on screen from as young an age as possible. With so much talk of inclusion, big movies need to step it up and go way outside the box for a film like Barbie to be remotely interesting in the first place. But for kids who want to see their differing experiences in media, it’s an added bonus. Agreeing to appear as such a traditional symbol of womanhood while also being the epitome of the status quo just would not be wise for Hathaway.

Of course, she absolutely cannot help being a white woman in Hollywood. She has a commendable track record of advocating for women’s rights and even dissected her own problematic behavior in the past. But it is for this very reason, coupled with her marketability and sustained leading lady status in Hollywood, that she should champion for less conventional casting choices in big movies like these. Preferably actresses who can represent self-love stories that haven’t been told over and over again in Hollywood.

Orange is the New Black’s Danielle Brooks tweeted a pertinent message about the situation that sums up the issue entirely but is also notably not a dig at Hathaway.

It is, once again, a glaring industry problem that somehow still sits in their blind spot. However, Hathaway can do a lot to curb it if she focuses her efforts elsewhere.

Her real staying power in recent years has been in smaller films. Hathaway made waves starring in Colossal, for instance. The “monstrous woman” trope has been played out before, but hardly in such a fresh and satisfying way. The film manages to provide universality to women’s experiences with violence and toxic masculinity. And it does so without riffing on overly similar themes in Hathaway’s past projects. Dealing with imperfect women and the concept of likability, this sounds a lot like Barbie without the inevitable superficiality or the repetition.

O2 sounds like a similarly holistic exercise for Hathaway as an actress that could not only test her acting abilities but also stay true to her feminist ethos. A sci-fi movie about an isolated woman whose memory is stripped from her, who has to figure out a means to escape as she’s running out of air? It’s commentary waiting to happen.

Leveling the playing field is never about taking big chances away from women. But the point is that Hathaway is not short of them regardless. Audiences will next see her in the women-led juggernaut Oceans 8, then alongside comedy mainstay Rebel Wilson in Nasty Girls. She won’t be lacking in roles of any kind anytime soon. Her continued success in the indie market and her commitment to seek out projects regardless of potential box office returns are evidence of that.

A film like O2 gives her leading lady credit and an actual acting challenge. She hasn’t yet been in a single-performer film. At this point in her career, it is quite clear that she doesn’t need Barbie, and the audience doesn’t either. Her talents are best reserved elsewhere.

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Sheryl Oh often finds herself fascinated (and let's be real, a little obsessed) with actors and their onscreen accomplishments, developing Film School Rejects' Filmographies column as a passion project. She's not very good at Twitter but find her at @sherhorowitz anyway. (She/Her)